Introduction: How to Make Affordable DIY Letterpress Wedding Invitations
I think the simplicity of letterpress is beautiful. I am in love with the debossed effect, the solid colours and all the endless variations caused by handcrafting each piece. Letterpress is all very enchanting, which is why I wanted letterpress wedding invitations more than anything else. The only thing that’s not desirable is the cost typically associated with letterpress wedding invitations. How much do store bought letterpress wedding invitations cost? Well, if you're me, it's more than your entire wedding budget, okay maybe not, but it's a lot!
But, for just $470 CAD ( ~$360 USD) I was able to purchase all the supplies to make 55:
- Wedding invitations
- Inserts (RSVP and Details cards)
- Thank you cards
- Pockets for Invites
- All envelopes
The cost per guest works out to $4.27 ($3.27 USD) since most invites include a plus one. The cost of making your own DIY letterpress invitations is about half of what it could cost if you had them printed professionally; which is a huge cost saving for a bride or groom on a budget. In fact, many of the quotes I initially received were double my end price.
There are two ways to go about this, you can make your own letterpress from scratch, or you can buy commercially available at home DIY kits. For the sake of minimizing risk, I went with a commercially available option.
Project Difficulty Rating:
- Easy - If you purchase pre-made letterpress designs and plates
- Intermediate - If you design and manufacture your own letterpress plates
Step 1: Gather Your Tools & Materials
Letterpress Specific Supplies:
- Letterpress platform ($55)
- Portable roller machine ($120 but used a 50% off coupon at Michaels so paid $60)
- 14 sheets of paper ($105)
- Gray ink ($25)
- Blue & turquoise ink ($14)
- Soft rubber brayer ($25)
- Digital Printing (The local printing shop I used didn’t charge me, but normally they’d charge $30 - $40)
- Photopolymer plates($80)
- 55 Teal Envelopes, 55 White Envelopes , 55 Panel Pocket A7 ($95)
- 3 Permanent glue tape ($11)
Total Price: $470 CAD
- Cutting Mat
- Image editing software or design template
- Palet knife
- Something to mix ink on, I used 2 small plexiglass sheets
I should mention that the tools listed above are great for creating letterpress wedding invitations on a budget (budget being a relative term). If money were no object, I'd love to get my hands on an Adana Letterpress Machine, but alas, I figured I'd start with a proof of concept.
Step 2: Write a Draft of Your Invitation
Before you start designing, you’ll need all your wedding details. I’d recommend typing them out in a text file first so you don’t make a spelling mistake or miss anything. Traditionally, on your wedding invitations you include:
- Who is hosting
- Who is getting married
- When is it happening
- Where and the party mention
We’re not traditional, so we kept our wording simple. The formality of your invitations is entirely up to you. The only thing that seems to be consistent across wedding blogs is not to include your registry information on your main invitation.
Step 3: Design Your Letterpress Wedding Invitation
Initial Invitation Design:
The cornerstone of my invitation design is the line drawing of the Cockpit Theatre at Dundurn Castle (the location we’re getting married). I started with a photograph my sister took of the building. I knew I wanted a simplified line drawing of the building so I sketched it out in pencil first. After, I took a photograph of my sketch and opened it in Adobe Illustrator to trace all key lines.
Something I’d encourage everyone to do is to stop looking at the photo and make changes to your illustration based on your artistic judgment. I removed lines, changed the shape of the building, and added symmetry where my original line drawing fell short.
When I was satisfied with the building, I added some trees, birds, bushes, and a deer (a reference to our first date).
Design Principles to Remember:
I live and breath by the C.R.A.P. principle of graphic design. That is:
C: Contrast = Focuses your attention on what needs it the most.
R: Repetition = Is what unifies your design.
A: Alignment = Gives your design structure.
P: Proximity = Is how you communicate what relates to what.
How to Apply Design Principles to Your Invitation:
With design, I find it easiest to establish a hierarchy of information before starting. What do you want the viewer to understand immediately, and what's secondary information. For us, our order of importance was:
- Our names
- When it's happening
- Who is hosting
- Then where it's happening
Since I wanted our names to stand out first, I made that text larger and in a different colour than everything else. To create repetition, I tried to keep my line weight even throughout my design. I also repeated the same colour used in our names in a singular line down below.
Step 4: Order Photopolymer Plates
Photopolymer plates are made from a negative of your artwork. I ordered the KF-152 from Boxcar Press . The nice thing about these plates is they are built with the same relief size (0.047”) as the plates that come standard to the letterpress platform. They also come with a sticky back so all you need to do is peel and stick (more on that later).
Get your artwork ready to order:
- If you’re working in illustrator, change your color mode to CMYK (File > Color mode > CMYK) and make sure your file is 100% black.
- Convert your text to outlines (Type > Create Outlines).
- If you’re using multiple colours, separate them into different plates. You’re charged by square inch, so there’s an opportunity to be strategic with how you submit your files.
- Trim your artboards to the exact size of your artwork.
- Save your file as an eps or ai file. A PDF also works, but it still needs to be a vector file. This means that you can’t just save a jpg as a pdf.
My artwork used two colours on the main invite so I did need to divide mine out.
I have heard of people making their own plates with a 3D printer. I was debating going to our local library and seeing if it worked. The reason I ordered mine was that I knew they’d work with my set up, and I didn’t leave myself a lot of time for errors. In the future, I’d love to attempt this process with a 3D printed letterpress plate.
Step 5: Cut Your Paper
I went with large sheets of paper because I was going to digitally print aspects of the RSVP card and the Details card. It was easier for the printer to print a bunch at once and cut them later. The tradeoff was for my invitations and thank you cards, I had to hand cut 110 individual pieces of 4.5 x 6.5 paper from 22 x 30” sheets. This took me about 3 hours. If you’re foolish enough to make this mistake, some tips I’d recommend are:
- Use a piece of thick tape square across your cutting mat.
- Physically mark where your cut lines are on your mat. This saves you time from counting each time.
- Don’t do this. Order your paper to size when possible.
Worst of all, I don’t believe this actually saved me any money in the long term. I’d advise you to order your paper samples 6-months in advance. Then get the paper company to cut all your paper to size for you after you selected your paper.
Step 6: Set Up Your Letterpress Platform
The reason I chose the letterpress platform that I did was the grid. I believed it would help with alignment (which it did).
First, use the grids to align your paper on your platform. My kit came with these little placement guides. They’re these styrofoam rectangles with a sticky on the back. I used them to make sure my paper was square, and wouldn’t jiggle around too much.
Then, on the opposite side of the platform work out where to stick the plates. If you ordered yours from the same place as me, you can just cut the pieces you need with scissors. Then peel away the cover and it’s like a sticker. Keep the backing so you can reuse your plates at a later date.
I did a few tests. Sometimes my image was not square. When that happened I peeled the plates off the letterpress platform lid and restuck them. There was a little bit of trial and error but eventually, it worked out.
Tips for aligning the plates with your paper: I thought I found a shortcut, which was to place the plates where I wanted them, with the stick side up, then close my letterpress platform so it would stick where I wanted it. Due to the shifting nature of the bottom, this didn’t work out well for me. Use the guides!
Step 7: Ink Your Plates
I used 2 plexiglass sheets. One was to put my ink on and mix it (when required) the other was for inking my brayer. For my turquoise, I wanted it to lean more to the blue side so I did mix my ink, but this isn’t necessary. I’d still advice you to use 2 plates so you can control how much ink you use.
You’re going to only use a little bit of ink. Roll the brayer back and forth until you get a smooth ink surface and your brayer is evenly covered in ink. There is a distinctive sound it makes when you’ve hit that spot.
Now, ink your plates! When I first started I barely could see any ink on my plates, but it turned out it was enough. Less is definitely more because if there’s too much it will bleed out of your lines. One thing I really struggled with was getting an even inking across my entire design. I suspect if I used a roller bearer I wouldn’t have had that problem.
If you get ink where it shouldn’t be, wipe it off with a paper towel.
Step 8: Run Platform Through Roller Machine
Run the platform through your roller machine hinge side first. One thing to be cautious of is the base of the platform sometimes isn’t sitting correctly in your letterpress platform. When that happens, your design won’t be placed where you intended it to be placed. The only solution I found was to be careful when you’re closing the lid.
Step 9: Assemble Your Invitations and Clean Up
You shouldn't have used a lot of ink on your plates, so cleaning up should be as simple as wiping them down with a paper towel. Peel your plates off the letterpress platform and stick them back on their backing so they can live to letterpress another day.
I then used Goo Gone to clean my Brayer and plexiglass. It did a pretty good job.
I used a glue tape to secure my invitation to the pocket. It’s quick, clean, and it sticks well. I first tried rubber cement but it was messier and it didn’t always stick properly because of the shimmer in the pocket.
Step 10: Enjoy!
I’m happy with the final result. The actual letterpressing probably took me 10 hours, but there is something satisfying about hand making your own wedding invitations. Is this the cheapest way to do wedding invitations? Probably not. But for letterpress, this is fairly inexpensive.
I accidentally ordered pockets with a slight shimmer, but I think it worked out well since it means my turquoise ink didn’t need to match exactly for it to still look like it matches.
- Spend the money on a good brayer.
- Expect to mess a few up.
- Raise your work area. After a while cranking that roller machine is hard on your back.
- And lastly, try it yourself. I truly believe this is something anyone could take on and be successful at. Also, letterpress is cool.